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Batavia's Night of Hoops will be bigger than ever
 

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Batavia's Night of Hoops will be bigger than ever
  • Junior forward Matt Johnson is from Batavia and now plays at Stevenson. He will return to Batavia on Saturday with Stevenson in a matchup against Benet at the Jim and Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops.

    Purchase Photo | Junior forward Matt Johnson is from Batavia and now plays at Stevenson. He will return to Batavia on Saturday with Stevenson in a matchup against Benet at the Jim and Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 

After honoring retired boys basketball coach Jim Roberts at the 2013 Batavia Night of Hoops and renaming it after the Hall of Fame coach and his wife the question was, what to do for an encore.

The answer is more basketball.

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The 21st annual Jim and Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops has been expanded into a daylong event with the addition of a midafternoon varsity game to bring the total number of contests to four varsity games plus four sophomore games.

The field doesn't include a national knockout like Simeon, which played at Night of Hoops a couple times over the last few years. Yet this year's lineup has as much intrigue as, say, the second day of play at Pontiac's Christmas tournament, and the firepower of the Proviso West semifinals.

"I think it's one of the best, top to bottom," said Batavia coach Jim Nazos, who as host naturally gets the final affair, 7:30 p.m. against St. Joseph, whose legendary coach Gene Pingatore fields a stable of college prospects.

The varsity games get underway at 3 p.m. with Limestone against Mooseheart, possibly the most intriguing matchup of the day. The 4:30 p.m. game is a real doozy -- Stevenson-Benet -- followed at 6 p.m. by West Aurora-St. Patrick, a contest of masterly coaches Gordie Kerkman -- now up to 775 career victories -- and St. Pat's Mike Bailey.

In Daily Herald terms, Stevenson (18-1) follows only unbeaten Fremd in boys rankings, and is No. 3 in the most recent Associated Press Class 4A Poll. Benet (13-6) offers one of the state's best big men in 6-foot-9, Xavier-bound Sean O'Mara. In Benet's last outing, a 71-58 win over Evanston at Loyola, O'Mara scored 23 points with 12 rebounds and 8 blocked shots.

West Aurora (15-3) is the Daily Herald's third-ranked team. Point guard Matt Dunn and shooting guard Jontrell Walker will be challenged by the physical and fundamentally sound play found in East Suburban Catholic Conference teams such as St. Patrick.

St. Joseph? Well, they're St. Joseph, among Illinois' top programs and coached by the state's all-time victories leader in Pingatore, a friend of Bobby Knight who's won more than 900 games in a 45-year head coaching career all in Westchester. This year's squad is 16-4.

"For as long as he's been coaching, if you want to give a face to Illinois basketball, he'd be one of them," Nazos said. "He probably passed legendary status maybe 20 years ago. He's a class individual, and you can see how he teaches basketball to his players. He's somebody who you can't not admire."

When Nazos was head coach at Wheaton North he said he faced Pingatore twice for the championship of St. Charles East's Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament. Counting both Friday's home game against St. Charles North and Saturday against St. Joseph's Jordan Ash, Glynn Watson and 6-9 college prospect Nick Rakocevic (Duke may be in the house Saturday to scout, Nazos said), Batavia (6-13) "gets a chance to see kind of where we're at right now," Nazos said.

"It's a game where we have to make sure we take care of the ball and rebound against them," Nazos said of St. Joseph. "They do a really good job inside. We need to make sure we get looks every single time down the floor."

Along with Rakocevic, Duke may also be watching Stevenson junior point guard Jalen Brunson, who according to 247Sports has 14 scholarship offers including one from Kansas and five from Big Ten schools.

Nazos and the Batavia contingent will be looking at Stevenson junior guard Matt Johnson, who moved to Buffalo Grove from Batavia in October of his sophomore year, Nazos said, to live with his father after Johnson's mother passed away.

Nazos said Johnson still talks with his Batavia pals, who went to see him at this year's Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"I'm sure it's a thing he's been looking forward to all year," Nazos said.

The same could be said for Mooseheart, which faces the ninth-ranked team in The Associated Press 3A poll in 18-2 Bartonville-Limestone, which last season beat St. Francis at the supersectional on its way to third-place in Class 3A.

According to Darryl Mellema, Daily Herald correspondent and also an associate editor in the communications department of Moose International, Limestone will be Mooseheart's toughest opponent since playing Peoria Manual at the Canton Thanksgiving Tournament. Currently the Ramblers are 9-0 in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, coming off a typical 89-44 victory Tuesday over Alden-Hebron.

Mooseheart (18-2) is The Associated Press' No. 5 team in Class 1A and has lost only to Canton and Manual, on the same day over Thanksgiving. Coach Ron Ahrens' Ramblers are led by 7-1 Akim Nyang, 6-10 Makur Puou and 6-7 Mangisto Deng.

In Mellema's postgame report of Mooseheart's easy win over Alden-Hebron, Ahrens was quoted as saying: "I can't wait to play Limestone. I know how good they were last year and I want the guys to be challenged. I'm so honored to even be invited, being around this area for 15 years and knowing the legacy Coach Roberts left up there."

Batavia and Mooseheart have a respectful and helpful working relationship. When the Batavia football team was in its championship run, rather than practice on its frozen natural surface, Batavia was welcomed to use Mooseheart Stadium and its FieldTurf surface.

Now that favor has been repaid in a different forum.

"We wanted to have Mooseheart in, as good as they are," Nazos said. "We know the coach there, and I think they're a team that needs to be seen and a team that wants to play great competition, too."

As for Jim and Sylvia Roberts, Nazos said he tried to get them to "throw out the first ball," but the retired coach would relent only to a simple acknowledgment.

"He's too humble," Nazos said.

Making headway: He's got a way to go before joining the likes of Pingatore, Kerkman and even 196 game-winner Nazos, but with Marmion's 80-56 victory over Montini on Tuesday, Cadets coach Ryan Paradise earned his 50th career win.

St. Francis coach Bob Ward, now in his third season with the Spartans, won No. 300 in Tuesday's 54-39 win over Chicago Christian.

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